Just Say No…To Your To-do List

Coffee in hand, Femme Banale looked over her to-do list for the day and didn’t want to do any of it.

To hell with the tyranny of 10,000 steps! The 10,000 steps dropped to the cutting-room floor along with barre class, cleaning the front hall, and practicing guitar. Blog writing remained on the list but not the proposed topic.

What’s going on? At Chez Banale, to-do lists are de rigeur. Family members boast about checking off all the items on their lists. Lists are emblems of organization and productivity, if not best practice in mental hygiene. Friend Shauna of the Star likely would say Femme Banale overturning her to-do list has something to do with Mercury in retrograde. Perhaps. Intuition simply said today’s list wasn’t right for today. It lacked communication and creativity. Here’s what the scrapped to-do list made room for:

  • Writing a long letter to an old neighbor
  • Reading personal travel essays at Wanderlust Journal for the pure pleasure of listening to someone else’s story (i.e., not THE NEWS)

Femme Banale acknowledges that many people have indispensable list items like work deadlines or picking up the kids from daycare, but present in all to-do lists are those insidious tasks of self-inflicted confinement.

Take the Banale challenge: Swap one uninspired dud on your next to-do list for something creative or satisfying or that makes you laugh or smile.

Monday Wisdom

Sidewalk, Los Angeles

There it is, laid at our feet.

All Souls’ Day Playlist

November 2nd marks All Souls’ Day—generally a Catholic observance remembering the dead.

It caps the nether-worldly triumvirate including Halloween and All Saints’ Day at the time of year when the fluid of the natural world slows and activity moves underground. Traditionally, All Souls’ Day has been a day of spiritual bartering in which the currency of prayer was to commute a loved one’s stay in the graceless murk of Purgatory. But this isn’t the way that I want to honor my dead. Too burdened. Too intangible. Too much of a downer.

Like the Mexican celebration of El Dia de los Muertos, I want to express a lighthearted tribute through the senses, in particular with song.  So, I’ve put together a playlist with selections from each loved one’s personal history.

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” sung by Roberta Flack

This one’s for my younger sister Cathy who at the age of six had the moxie to turn on the stove to show me how to fry an egg and who as a teenager had the guts to have a paper route when it wasn’t cool. She could buy $5 LPs while the rest of us scrounged babysitting change for 99-cent singles. But it was Flack’s 1972 hit single that Cathy played the most—the singer’s voice wafted through our house for months.  Was my 16-year-old sister in love before the music stopped?

“Rocky Mountain High” sung by John Denver

Mom was a singing waitress at a place called Mario’s in Aspen in the early Fifties. She was a nursing school graduate briefly pulled by the ski bum’s life, plus she had a voice.  Seven kids later, she’d return with us on ski trips either on the train or packed into the station wagon with a cooler full of bologna sandwiches. It was all fun except maybe for the mildly uncomfortable moments when she’d sing along to Denver’s hit as it played at the lodge cafeteria.

“The Victors” played by the University of Michigan Marching Band

My dad was not a music guy. But as a former UM football player, he loved Michigan’s fight song, teaching us the words and tune as little kids. It was an indelible link to the Glory Days of being a student-athlete.  From him came the terse wisdom to my son as a college freshman: “Mike, you can be a student, an athlete, or a partier. You can be two of the three, but not all three.”

“Empty Pages” by Traffic

Everyone should grow up with a best friend like Mary Gael. She was a mastermind of mischief who filled our long summer days and Friday nights before The Ghoul Show came on. Prank phone calling was the gateway antic that led to more ambitious productions like dressing up for the Domino’s Pizza delivery man and staging slapstick bits before paying him. This often involved a cast of my younger brothers and sisters, my charges for the evening.

So, what about the song? It’s here because the 1970 Traffic concert in Ypsilanti, Michigan, is the last best memory of my childhood best friend, hip huggers and all.

And in case anyone remembers me with a song, please don’t let it be “Für Elise.”  Although those subjected to my constant practicing of this piece deserve time off in Purgatory.








Monday Wisdom

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard for the wicked, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

A sutra is an aphorism. The word itself means thread.  Of this particular sutra, the revered teacher Swami Satchidananda said, “It will be very helpful to you in keeping a peaceful mind in your daily life.”

Easy Recipe #4

Spinach quiche decorated with the last of the season’s cherry tomatoes
Up close and delicious

Sigh…farmers’ markets in the Midwest are coming to a close.  This easy recipe uses fresh spinach, a cool season character, as the main player. If you don’t have spinach, use a cup of another cooked vegetable. Quiche contains the main Banale ingredient—that is, versatility.   Mushrooms and onions make an excellent segue to the winter months.
Serves 6–8


1 prepared pie crust for 9″ pan (or if you’re a purist or advanced chef, make your own crust)
1 to 1.5 cup(s) cooked vegetable(s)
3 eggs
1 cup milk or cream
1.5 cups grated cheese
Salt, pepper, and any seasoning inspiration


→Preheat oven to 375°
→Place vegetables on bottom of pie shell
→Place cheese on top of veggies
→Beat eggs and wisk together with milk and seasonings
→Pour milk-egg mixture on top of cheese
→Cook for 40 minutes or so until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
→Let cool 10 minutes before serving

Tips: Pack a slice of quiche for lunch. Pass this recipe along to those new to the kitchen or the time-strapped folks in your life. 




Monday Wisdom

Femme Banale returns to an old favorite.

The Peace of Wild Things
Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Monday Wisdom

Goddess Tara with hand raised in gesture of assurance. Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Be assured.

Tomato Bouquet

Heirloom beauties

Rejoice!  Fresh local tomatoes have arrived at farmers’ markets for a glorious, albeit narrow, time frame. This is a BIG deal for tomato lovers in colder USDA zones. Not only are fresh tomatoes superior in taste and texture to their bleak mid-winter counterparts, they make vibrant center pieces in lieu of flowers. As you eat your tomatoes, downsize the display plate.


Tip: The University of Illinois Extension advises storing tomatoes at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Do not store them in the refrigerator, which can make them mushy and tasteless.

Monday Wisdom

Femme Banale has returned from a vacation in northern Michigan and would like to share souvenirs from her trip.

The first is the t-shirt wisdom: “Shut Up and Fish.”

Well, OK.  I get the gist of this, but prefer the softer words of local celebrity Gwen Frostic, a naturalist and artist:

“In moments of solitude, hear all of nature singing…”

Housekeeping Dept.

Femme Banale is done with fancy, thick washcloths. They take forever to dry unless you have the body-builder guns to fully wring them out. They are expensive and prone to mildew. The Banale solution: a pack of inexpensive “lite” cotton washcloths often available at larger drugstores or big-box stores. Those shown above came from Target—$4 for eight cloths.

Picture a nice stack of these fluffy squares in your vanity ready for service.  In Femme Banale’s household, she gets them all to herself because the men folk here do not use washcloths—a mystery she prefers not to explore.  If you are having houseguests, they can be rolled easily and stacked spa-style. Retire them to the cleaning-cloth bag once they get raggedy.

Tip: Throw a couple in your bag when travelling. You never know.

Do you have a domestic tip to pass along?

Spa look for guests